PROOF POSITIVE

Australian House & Garden
Clever layout tweaks coupled with a can-do attitude paved the way for the renovation of this Sydney home, the love child of an interior designer and her builder husband.

Owner Alanna Smit with her children (from left) Maisie, Penelope and Sam. Her husband Mike made the pizza oven. Photography by Simon Whitbread.

Owner Alanna Smit with her children (from left) Maisie, Penelope and Sam. Her husband Mike made the pizza oven. Photography by Simon Whitbread.

Aside from vision and talent, there are less-acknowledged attributes that make for a successful renovator. Patience, forbearance and a positive attitude are essential. Interior designer Alanna Smit needed plenty of each when her husband Mike instigated the renovation of their three-bedroom weatherboard cottage on Sydney’s Northern Beaches in 2008.

“I came home from hospital with our newborn, Sam, and the front of the property was dug up,” she says. For the following six months, Alanna – with baby Sam and her two toddlers Maisie and Penelope in tow – had to traipse through their neighbour’s property to access her home.
Mike, a master builder, had been itching to begin. The couple had spent three years refining their vision for the property, using all their experience to make the most of the cottage and its 700m2 plot.

The family lived in two rooms while the house was rebuilt around them, enduring six months without a kitchen and what felt like a lifetime of torrential rain. Still, Alanna looked on the bright side. “I never had to have anyone over, or clean the house, so in a way it was quite convenient. And I could take the washing to the laundromat.”

‘I believe what’s outside the home is just as important as inside. I’m always considering what’s going on outside a window or how one is greeted at the door.’

Their plan was to excavate the hillside the house was perched upon to allow for a four-car garage at the front of the property; this aspect was non-negotiable as the home is also the base for the couple’s design and construction business.

They then extended the house at the front to accommodate a new bathroom and two new bedrooms. This footprint meets their office and a rooftop garden on top of the garage. “We work together and talk about the business a lot, so we wanted the office to be completely out of sight from the house, and therefore out of mind,” says Alanna.

Internal tweaks were also in order: the couple turned an adjacent bedroom into an ensuite for their bedroom, and transformed another into a music/guestroom. An extra metre in width and pitched roof were added to the rear living area to correct its proportions and a bathroom removed to make the galley kitchen a more spacious proposition. An outdoor entertaining zone was added off the living area, shaped around the existing frangipani, and to top it off, a shed at the rear of the property was transformed into guest accommodation. 

Alanna bought the sofa from a friend and had it reupholstered. “That was almost eight years ago and, yes, it’s still white!” she says, laughing.

Alanna bought the sofa from a friend and had it reupholstered. “That was almost eight years ago and, yes, it’s still white!” she says, laughing.

Time in the trade taught the couple a few tricks that paid off handsomely, the most striking of which is the new 2.5m wide, double-height foyer. With glazing on two sides and a hand-stacked dry-stone wall, this arresting space works as a lightwell, allows for cross-ventilation and most importantly, creates the impression of a more spacious house to follow. “In fact, the room sizes are standard,” says Alanna.

Aesthetically, it also paves the way for Alanna’s interior approach – a deft Australian take on plantation and Hamptons style. Here, a combination of reworked family heirlooms, garage-sale finds and carefully selected designer pieces are woven into a casual yet sophisticated space. This practical, unprecious approach suits the home’s era and enables, rather than circumscribes, daily life for this young family.

With Sam now four, Penelope, six, and Maisie, seven, and the house humming along nicely, the importance of those early days of planning is apparent. “I love it when the house is filled with people,” says Alanna. “The kids play out the back and I’ll entertain with a table full of food. Some of our best days are spent that way.”

Alanna Smit Structural Interiors, Newport, NSW; alannasmit.com.au. Mike Smit Constructions, Newport, NSW; www.mikesmitconstructions.com.au.